Why I want to make a Lite Brite lamp…


(photo credit to tumblr use, istrose)

What follows is sure to be the most inane post I’ve made here yet, but that’s why it’s already so lovely!

I was browsing around tumblr, as I’m apt to do when I’m too sleepy to be productive, but not quite sleepy enough to doze off, when LO AND BEHOLD, I found this gem.

It should also be mentioned that I like having the occasional conversation with my 5-year-old self. I’m always intrigued by the things that we no longer have in common, but I’m even more interested in the things that never changed. In doing so, I recalled a formative evening…

My clearest recollection of Lite-Brite-ing (and I know I owned one, so the fact that this is my clearest memory surely means something) involves perhaps the first crush of my lackadaisical love-life. Hunter, maybe? Caleb? Forgettable name aside, he was the older brother of one of my little league cheerleader compatriots. A whole TWO years older, to be exact. I was invited to my friend’s house for a sleepover, but I ended up awake long after she had passed out. Her older brother remained awake, however, aglow in the family room, basking in the fluorescent spectrum of a dazzling Lite Brite. I joined him, hesitantly at first.

But he was doing it all wrong.

And he was using one of the pattern sheets, for god’s sake.

And he had no concept of coordinating colors.

Naturally, I took charge and frightened the soft-hearted boy off.

The Lite Brite was far better entertainment.

And that sounds about right to this day…



I’m at a point in my life, very solitary and self-aware and tired from all the recent growing, wherein I sink into a deep nostalgia every night. I close my eyes and re-imagine all the beds I’ve slept in and the ceiling patterns I memorized over the years. If I hold perfectly still, I can rewind and unscar my body, trace my time-travel progress by the smoothness of my skin. An unmarred left knee against a king-sized set of puff pillows and crisp white sheets with an ocean view and all the airy disregard of childhood vacations.

Nostalgia is a perfectly balanced emotion. So symmetrical in its give and take of sad joy, a downturned half smile that still trudges up to your eyes. And so easy to provoke—a whiff of dish soap, the melody of a forgotten song’s chorus, a name, my God, a name. A book, an old photo, the tail end of a dream about something that hasn’t happened yet, but feels an awful lot like everything you ever wanted. How it hurts, yearning to return to something you never had.

I have to trek forward, must do it. But until the bed is a little less lonely, I’ll settle nightly into the lulling, achey ebb and flow and take comfort in knowing I’ve had things worth missing. And in knowing I will recall this ceiling and miss what I have and still wait to have. Nothing’s gone wrong. I’ve not lost it. It’s only a symptom of time. And I will have more ceilings to miss.

I’m chillingly in love with the idea of building a house together. Forget honeymoons or children or co-owning a dog. We’ll build a house, though I’m not much help. I work in pen and paper, in monochromatic ideals that you can see if you close your eyes. But we ought to open them for this.

Take my aquamarine awe of the sky,
The yellowing pages of all my old books,
The wine-ruddy kisses
Tucked behind your ear,
And we’ll make a home–
A stained-glass house of worship.

Mad-Woman Rantings (aka I found this in my drafts)

Life is about reconciliation, right?

Somewhere along the evolutionary or philosophical road, someone instilled in us that life consists of binaries. Good and evil. Female and male. Sad and happy. Not everyone digs this kind of stark division of abstract concepts, and some people prefer a continuum. Good to evil (and all stops in between). Female to male…etc.

The more I read and think and talk to people, I don’t even dig the continuum—still too linear. I’ve considered the idea of circles…the further you get from 0 the closer you get to 360, but they’re the same thing, so…not a very practical shape for some ideas.

So I end up back at the continuum. Only this time, I want it to be elastic (don’t worry, I’ll explain).

Lemme go back to the start of this post and concretize some things…

I realized quite a while ago that my philosophical end game of life has very little to do with money or acclaim or profession (although, I should probably take my head a little out of the clouds and back to the ground.) Rather, I live and operate, both socially and personally, in a kind of achey conflict that I’ll be resolving until the day I die.

I really think I’d like to dance. I’m positive, in fact, that I would love dancing. My idealistic self dances well and often. She lives modestly and nomadically at times, and being the cheap woman she is, sleeps in her car during solo road trips across the country because she doesn’t really need a hotel room.

But in reality, these things can’t happen. And I don’t mean it in a sad way. I just mean it in a “I have acknowledged these physical limitations” kind of way.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I have any desire to passively accept a plan B life. So I spend a lot of emotional and mental energy reconciling my idealistic self and my actual self. That elastic continuum? I’m trying to relieve some of the tension and get the two ends closer together.
Most people do this, I think. Their idealistic self is a future self, because in a lot of cases, their ideals are physically attainable. So I think a lot of people consistently entertain these prime selves and some of them even work toward them. But my idealistic self is a present self, distanced not by time, but by concrete inabilities. Thus, I put what energy I have left into my version of attainable. Not a bad way to live. I feel pretty good about it, truth be told. If I’ve ever wanted to do something and it was physically possible, I’ve done it. It always works.

Now to real time.

I’m pretty introverted. And I’m a little proud. And that’s a horrible combination. I want to be independent and do things for myself. I don’t need other people. I always meant it in an empowering way, but lately I’ve come to realize that I warped it.

Turns out I need other people. Not just fleeting help here and there or local haunt acquaintances. Solid, deep, long term people. Not to do anything for me…just to be there. You start getting a taste of it and you realize what you’ve been denying yourself for years and you wonder what you were ever doing, putting up all those silly walls—and that’s been my mind space lately.

The problem is that I can’t bear the thought of asking anyone else to live with the obstacles and challenges that come along with my semi-special circumstance. Feels wrong. Feels selfish. Feels ludicrous, even.

But I know those are wrong ways to feel.

So now it’s a new reconciliation project. I finally mind-puzzled it out as I was driving today and it helps to scribble these things down. I’m gonna have to accept that maybe I don’t have to go it alone?

Wild concept.

Not sure I buy it.

But the ramifications sound marvelous.

Letters by Request

There’s a meme floating around Tumblr that let’s people request that you write letters to [insert name here]. Interestingly, I was asked to write a letter to my dad and then a second one to my past self. The results feel like a good fit here…

Dear dad,

I’ll try to not make this too cheesy because you’re far too cool for cheesy. But I will start with a sentimental indulgence: you are an angel. Or some kind soul or spirit in corporeal form. If I reach back to my earliest memories, the ones that hadn’t yet met you, I sense a kind of looming darkness. Put simply, things could have gone terribly. Should have gone terribly. The daughter of a teenage mother and an ill-equipped sperm-donor, starting to show symptoms of a mysterious disorder…let’s just say it wasn’t looking so hot.

But in you swooped, with your unfortunate 90s mullet and open heart. I remember sitting on the floor of the apartment we lived in when you and mom were at your poorest, reading the walkthrough guide to Tomb Raiderout to you. I read slowly. You got killed a lot. But you let me continue. I remember you building a (very dangerous) tree swing and pushing me on it…over…and over…and over again. The patience of Job, I swear. I remember when the symptoms started getting really bad and you would drive mom and Lexi and I to Cincinnati and wait while they pricked me with dozens of needles. I don’t even think you guys were married yet. But you were around to stay. When the doctors gave us the option of dangerous surgery but indefinite health or safe modification and maybe a couple extra years before my lungs and heart gave out…well, I’m still kicking, so good call on the surgery.

The smooth-sailing times have been the best though. Sunday morning French toast. Football or NASCAR or golf, even. Concerts and your incredible influence on my taste in music and movies. Road trips and family vacations. Goodfellas and The Shawshank Redemption every.single.time they play on AMC. The wonderful, amazing extended family you brought me into. The outlandish stories of your “younger” days and your insistence (along with mom’s) that my sisters and I could do absolutely anything we wanted to as independent women.

I miss hanging out with you every Sunday. I miss it so much that I’ve tried installing new routines on my life to distract myself. It works out alright. Perhaps that’s just growing up. The weekly phone calls are wonderful, even when they consist mostly of reminders to do all the responsible, grown up things I don’t really want to do. But they’re invaluable when I’ve lost faith in myself and you’ve got confidence in me to spare. Even your love advice is appreciated, though I don’t think you know quite how high of a standard you set.

Every once in a while, by a stroke of luck or mistaken judgement, someone will tell me I’m interesting. For the most part, it’s because you worked some kind of magic.

I love you pops. You need to come visit.

Dear past me,

Remember when we were 5 and we choreographed that dance routine to “Push It” and made everyone who visited watch us? Don’t lose that spunk. We got really serious along the way and I don’t know if it’s because life got really hard and scary and looked like it wouldn’t last long when we were really young. I don’t know if it had something to do with children in elementary school being evil and malicious because we were markedly different. I don’t know. It was probably a combination.

But we packed away the fun side of our self years ago in exchange for good grades and acceptance. We could have done a lot worse (a whole lot worse), but now all the fun is stuck inside and though it’s started seeping out lately, I’m pretty sure we’ll have to have someone come along to get it out of us—not a bad thing, just hard to find.

And try not to be so afraid of investing yourself in people. We still haven’t gotten past that one, by the way. We still have trouble trusting that people genuinely like us, even when they say they do. A little skepticism is smart, but the amount we have can be stifling. See if you can shake that while you’re still young. Turns out it’s harder the longer you maintain it.

Also, people are going to be out of your league. That’s the reality of life. But not all of them. For the love of God, don’t be so afraid of making a fool out of yourself that you don’t aim high. It’s really the only way to aim.

Everything is an unsolicited adventure and there’s never a moral to the story.

The scene: cold. Really cold, per my wimpy standards. I’ve come to the realization that I don’t like the cold. And despite otherwise liking my location, I’ve never wanted to be elsewhere as much as I did this morning. My van is frozen shut, all of the cracks and hinges coated in a slick layer of ice. But I have an appointment to get my oil changed. And I really need my oil changed.

The action: I can’t tell you exactly why, but I have a weird phobia of business-like phone calls. I hate making them, hate taking them. So I wasn’t letting yesterday’s phone call go to waste because of a little ice. I had let the service department know that I’ve got a bit of a unique situation–no driver’s seat, specifically, and a driving contraption that only I’m trained to operate, so I would have to pull it into the garage. “No problem,” I’m told. I wasn’t sure what “no problem” meant, but I could hear a hint of something off in the guy’s voice, something that said, “surely someone here will be able to drive it.”

Life lesson #2532: preemptory phone calls are useless.

I show up and, sure enough, set the whole operation into a panic. Everyone, that is, except for a very chatty elderly chap who took down my mileage and VIN. While the service manager was calling his manager to see if they were even allowed to let me drive into the garage, this guy was trying to fill the silence.

  • “I’ve been in two separate car wrecks and shattered 5 of my vertebrae.”
  • “Before I retired from chemical engineering, I was making around $115,000 a year.”
  • “My wife and I just recently got custody of two of our grandchildren.”

All of these points were strange, and none of my business. But I was alright listening. Until he really got started:

Him: “So you were born like this?”
Me: “Like what?”
Him: “Well, you know…handicapped.”
Me: “It’s genetic, so yeah, I’ve always had the disability.”
Him: “Bless your heart.”

At this point, I typically let it go. Once someone gets into the pity mentality, it’s hard to get them out of it. But I had time to kill.

Me: “Why?”
Him: “Well you’re just not letting it stop you.”
Me: “I’ve got things I want to do and resources available, there’s no reason for it to stop me.”
Him: “Are you independent?”
Me: “I drive, I live on my own, I make my own food, I’m in grad school. But independence isn’t a measure of anything, really, it’s just what I want.”
Him: “See, you’re just so inspirational. People like you inspire me.”
Me: “I understand the sentiment and I think you mean it as a compliment, but I also think that if I weren’t in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t find me inspiring. I would just be someone doing what they’re supposed to do.” (Side note, I don’t really think that what I do is what people are supposed to do, but I sense that his standards would hold this to be the case.)
Him: “A young lady living on her own and getting educated, I think I’d still be inspired.”

This is where I realized I was dealing with compound expectations. And dealing with an inner conflict.

Based on what he had told me, he had me pegged at disadvantaged for at least three reasons: disability, gender, and age. He’s not entirely wrong. But it didn’t set right, for reasons that I’m still working on pinpointing. Being an inspiration to someone you care about is fulfilling, especially if they mean it literally–if they are motivated, by your actions or existence, to do or create something, you’ve got magic. Being an inspiration to a stranger is really odd, especially for the reasons he cited.

But the man was really sweet–genuinely nice–and my instincts pull me toward kindness. I’m in the self-improvement business of trying not to let the world make me completely hard and cynical (and what a struggle), so when someone is being nice and that niceness is misplaced, my brain splits. Side one wants to foster warmth and humanity. Side two wants to inform and enlighten. They get along, most of the time, but in situations like this–really stubborn but well-meaning ignorance–they get pitted against one another and I end up going home in a weird, funky kind of state.

What kind of person gets offended when someone calls her inspirational?

I do. And I’m pretty sure that’s okay. I’ve dealt with this moral conundrum before.

But just as I was leaving (to go to another dealership, because they finally determined that they couldn’t change my oil), the man told me I had changed his whole outlook on life.

That’s heavy.

He could be totally full of crap, knowingly or otherwise. But regardless, haven’t I asked for this? In my professional and creative endeavors, I’m always trying to change people’s mindsets. So it seems good. Right?

But my primary concern right now is what to watch on Netflix. Where I should order my pizza from. Whether to get red or white wine that I’ll drink by myself as I pretend I’m not completely alone in my living room.

Why would anyone put outlook-changing responsibility on me?

On Family and Good Fortune

I’m a little late in saying this, but after being back in Knoxville for a few days and looking back on what this Christmas offered me, I have to mark myself outrageously fortunate.

My parents are incredible people–giving, loving people who emit the kind of comforting warmth that comes out of truly happy souls. I sometimes think about the fact that, when they were the age I am now, they already had children. By all the standards of cautionary tales, they should have failed miserably. But they made some kind of magic happen. I’m talking about the kind of magic that J.K. Rowling goes on about when she spends 7 books convincing us of the power of love. They made that happen without any instructions or help and I’m increasingly in awe.

Meanwhile, my sisters are turning into these absolutely amazing women–driven, honest, heartfelt, and fun. When I say that I can’t wait to see what they do, I mean that I’m on proverbial pins and needles to see who and what gets the honor of being part of their lives.

As if that weren’t enough, I’ve got the most incredible, kind friends. It sounds narcissistic (and perhaps I’m okay with that), but my heart leaps to find that people want to see me. Long distance friends miss my presence enough to pursue getting together to shoot the breeze. And the feeling is mutual. It’s always difficult to express during causal meetings, but knowing you’re valued by a good friend is like settling into a comfortable armchair–very difficult to leave.

This isn’t to say that my holiday was all eternally blooming roses or anything. My dad put it best while we were preparing to feast over our traditional Chinese take-out when he said that we don’t have many of these left. My family is a five person unit. We have extensions, but for the past 15 years, we’ve been a solid quintet and Christmas has represented a special introspection of that. But we’re all getting older and this close-knit scenario won’t last forever. I think we’ll always return, but it feels as if sometime soon, my sisters and I will be bringing in new people. The cast will expand, eventually, and that’s a strange notion.

But I must say, to anyone who dares join us: with a willing heart, it is the stuff of unconditional love.

On Synecdoche, New York

Per a friend’s insistence, I watched Synecdoche, New York last night. I thought I had seen it before, and perhaps I had, but not in its entirety. I would’ve remembered such a shake of the shoulders. Moreover, this wasn’t some partially attentive viewing. Oh no, I was asked for “my thoughts” on the film, so think I did. The first thing I thought when it was over?

What was it about?

The danger of trying to distill real life into an artful representation of the truth? Not even possible, really. The moment you represent, you warp. Representations only get close to the “truth” when they give up on being accurate, perhaps even realistic. It’s a double translation. Translate the truth into a twisted truth so that when you translate the twisted truth, you might twist it back into something real. Or something like that.

In truth (ha), the movie is so meta that it can’t really be about anything. There’s your postmodern cynicism. A cynicism that plagues my far too juvenile mind. (Early 20s for, God’s sake, much too early for all this postmodern melancholy). As a writer, the inescapable feeling of unoriginality coaxes me toward self-representation. Write about what I know. And I know myself…kind of. I can’t screw that up, right?

But in the film, that’s precisely what Caden does. He screws it up. He’s extremely narcissistic, which manifests as Sammy—a man who’s done nothing but watch another man all his life and takes his job—being Caden—so seriously that he attempts to find Caden, for Caden’s sake. I’d probably jump off a building too. But Caden’s narcissism is somehow palatable, pitiful even, because he hasn’t a shred of self-confidence. He’s also a hypochondriac which discredits his attempts to represent the truth—he doesn’t actually know what’s happening. He makes a horribly unreliable narrator.

In these ways, he’s highly realistic—if we can suspend disbelief and buy into realism for a moment. As part of an audience, I felt sympathy for Caden. As a writer, I got a sick feeling of familiarity. It’s a schizophrenic, almost dissociative business, after all, as any art is. The author is very much alive and the cost of creation is a little loss of the self you thought you knew. A price I’m willing to pay, admittedly, but a price nonetheless. I imagine that the extreme manifestation of this sort of thing looks something like that moment toward the end, in the hall closet, when Caden has assumed the persona of someone else. There’s something easier about it. Something easier about being someone else and insulating yourself from reality. Maybe it doesn’t go as far as recreating your small world into a warehouse inside of a warehouse, but it’s just as theatrical.

Highly dangerous, though. Caden becomes so wrapped up in his own misunderstandings of the world that he doesn’t even realize that his great love has been free to love him for God only knows how long. So he indulges that very human impulse to romanticize—to give himself one perfect, relivable day with the woman he loves.

I’m left almost able to taste his fear of living. It’s an awful, familiar fear, made all the more frustrating by the companion fear of not living.

This is where the chills and queasiness begin, so I start thinking of his obsession with titling his play, which leads to the title of the film: Synecdoche, New York.

Schenectady, New York exists. It’s on the napkin that Hazel scraps from Qunicy’s. Synecdoche, however, is a literary device. A very specific type of metaphor in which a part represents a whole or vice versa—“all hands on deck” requests entire bodies, not just hands, and you don’t just collect “vinyls,” you collect records made out of vinyl. But synecdoche allows us to pick up on the linguistic short hand and understand that you don’t collect −CH=CHcompounds.

So they’ve taken the name of a real city and distorted it into a function of figurative language. It’s easy enough to say that the warehouse (part) synecdochically represents New York (whole). We could even overgeneralize and say that Caden (part) represents mankind (whole). But it goes a little deeper if we think about metaphor theory and try to cope with the fact that everything we talk about functions metaphorically (just consider prepositions for a minute and get back to me when you realize that “on” TV makes no more practical sense than “in” a movie). All the acting, the writing, the theatricality is figurative. It doesn’t have the capacity to be literal, which is what makes everything so frustratingly meta. The burning house, for example, a seemingly red herring, pissed me off until I realized that it’s not supposed to be literally on fire. But Hazel’s fate—the whole dying in the fire business, as the realtor explained—was sealed the moment she bought the house, so it might as well have been burning the whole time. Same way we’re dying all along, even if we don’t see it. Death by fire masquerades as a pinpointed event. Death by time, not so much.

Now, since I was already ball’s deep in linguistic ponderings, I dug into the etymology of “synecdoche”…Greek, as it turns out, combining the “syn” prefix (a preposition that means together/similarly) and a verb that means “I accept.” I found that bit funny, since I’m going to need about half a dozen more views before I can accept anything, except, perhaps, the poignant line that: “Knowing that you don’t know is the first and most essential step to knowing, you know?”